Delisting recovered gray wolf would demonstrate progress
Last updated 9/20/2018 at Noon
Once hunted to near-extinction in the lower 48 U.S. states and listed by the federal government as an endangered species in 1974, gray wolves (Canis lupus) are thriving in the U.S. and in Washington state, with more than 5,000 wolves now living in the contiguous U.S.
According to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state’s wolf population has grown over the past nine straight years to 22 packs that contain at least 120 individuals.
In our state, the species’ recovery is bringing wolves into increasing contact with livestock, increasing predations, and with humans.
This summer, a research student was forced to climb 30-feet up into a tree to escape wolves in a rural area of Okanogan County.
Luckily, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was able to send a helicopter in time to rescue her. We can expect more such stories of human and wolf interaction as the species proliferates.
Despite its evident recovery, the gray wolf remains listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Every five years, the status of endangered species is reviewed, and after one such review in 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) found recovery goals had been achieved for gray wolves.
FWS then proposed a rule to remove the wolf from the endangered list. Environmental groups objected, and the effort to delist the species, as backed by the latest scientific evidence, has stalled.
Permanently listing species under the federal ESA is not how the process was ever intended to work.
The process should rely on the best available science. It is a sign of progress that species have recovered from the brink of extinction and no longer merit protection under the ESA.
Effective management of wolf populations in our state faces an arbitrary hurdle: In the western third-thirds of Washington, gray wolves are still listed as endangered.
But in the eastern third of our state, the wolves are no longer listed, so the Washington Department of Natural Resources is responsible for managing the wolf population.
State governments are fully qualified to responsibly manage gray wolf populations and are better able to meet the needs of local communities, ranchers, livestock, and wildlife populations.
Last week, I joined colleagues Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) to introduce bipartisan legislation, H.R.6784, the Manage Our Wolves Act, to delist the gray wolf from the ESA and return management of the species to the states.
States tend to be more responsive and accountable for the needs of local communities than federal agencies, and they deserve the flexibility to manage growing gray wolf populations.
We can celebrate the return of iconic species like the gray wolf, but states should be empowered to manage populations to ensure the healthiest balance between humans and nature.